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The Christian Counter

     
Segment VI
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William Miller (1782-1849)

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An interesting sequence of events occurred in the United States just before the third seal was broken. The story began on a Sunday morning in 1816, when the Holy Spirit changed the heart of William Miller. Captain Miller was a 34-year-old army officer who had settled in Low Hampton, New York, after retiring from military service. At the time, Miller was a self-proclaimed deist. (Deists believe in a Supreme Being, but they deny the inspiration of the Bible and hold a view of God that is contrary to the Bible.) However, Miller had two uncles that were Baptist preachers, and even though he was not a church member, he dutifully attended services at the Hampton Baptist Church with his believing wife whenever his uncle, Elisha, was preaching.

 

Because Miller did not attend church when his uncle was absent, certain members of the church thought Captain Miller might be persuaded to attend church more regularly if he was asked to participate. Therefore, they asked him to read a selected sermon from Proudfit’s Practical Sermons the next time his itinerant uncle was absent. To their surprise, Miller agreed. A few weeks later, Miller was called on to read the sermon one Sunday morning. About half way through the sermon on Isaiah 53, Miller was overcome with a personal realization of what he was saying, Isaiah’s predictions about the sufferings of Christ for our sins caused Miller to stop and begin weeping. He buried his face in his hands and humbly sat down. Many in the audience wept, too. The moving of the Holy Spirit was overpowering that wonderful morning and, from that day forward, William Miller was a changed man. He became a born again believer in Christ and joined the Baptist Church. After his conversion that morning, Miller began to intensely study the Bible. Two years later, in 1818, Miller concluded from the book of Daniel that Jesus would return to Earth “around 1843.” For several years, Miller kept this matter to himself for he thought he was alone in this view.

 

Fifteen years after becoming a born again Christian, Miller began to feel a burden to publicly share his discoveries in the Bible. An invitation from his nephew to speak to a small church group initiated Miller’s “lay ministry” in August 1831. Because Miller’s views on the Second Coming were unusual, word spread. Miller gained the respect of those who heard him even though he was not highly educated. Miller was a very bright person, a keen thinker, well organized in his thoughts, through in his research and most of all, humble. In 1833, he was licensed by a small group of Baptists ministers so that he could preach in surrounding Baptist churches. By 1844, Miller estimated that he had personally delivered 4,500 lectures on Bible prophecy to 500,000 people; a remarkable feat when you consider that he was about 50 years old when he spoke to audiences without the support of a public address system. William Miller has few peers in early American history. He was the “Billy Graham” of his day. Of course, as his popularity grew, so did resistance. At the height of his ministry, historians calculate the Millerites (as his followers were called) numbered between fifty and one hundred thousand people. When Jesus did not appear in 1843 or 1844 as predicted, Miller’s credibility was ruined and he went to his grave five years later bearing the shame and stigma of a “false prophet.”

Shortly after the disappointment, Miller responded to his critics saying, “I have never courted the smiles of the proud, nor quailed when the world frowned. I shall not now purchase their favor; nor shall I go beyond duty to tempt their fate. I shall never seek my life at their hands; nor shrink I hope, from losing it, if God in His good providence so orders.” (The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, by LeRoy Edwin Froom, Volume IV, page 683)  William Miller died in 1849, broken in health and finances. He had “bet the farm” on the Second Coming of Jesus and spent everything he owned sharing the good news of Christ’s return. He died trusting Jesus as his Savior, but he was unable to understand where he had gone wrong.

 

 

Miller did not know in 1818 that several other Bible students in the United States and Europe had reached similar conclusions. For example, five years earlier, William Cunningham (1776-1849) of Lainshaw, Ayshire (Scotland) concluded the world would end around 1843. William C. Davis (1760-1831), a Presbyterian minister in South Carolina came to an 1843 conclusion in 1818. In 1820, Archibald Mason (1753-1831), of Wishawton, Scotland, concluded the world would end “around 1844.” It was not coincidental that more than twenty-five writers in Europe and the United Stated, having no collaboration with William Miller, came to the conclusion that the 2,300 days mentioned in Daniel 8:14 would terminate around 1844. (See The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, by LeRoy Edwin Froom, Volume III, pages 744, 745, published 1946 by the Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington D.C.)

 

 

 

Miller Becomes Interdenominational

 

In the early nineteenth century, New England Baptist churches were loosely organized and rather independent of each other. There were no telephones or televisions. This isolation explains how ministers in some areas could accept Miller’s views without causing a problem for the Baptist denomination in general. Because Miller was a layman and his early efforts were confined to a small geographical area, opposition to Miller’s ministry was not significant in the beginning. In addition to this, Protestants in New England were quite open to new ideas from the Bible. There was deep respect and interest in the Bible in those days. (Remember, the Declaration of Independence was only 55 years old when Miller began to preach.)

 

Miller’s obscure lay ministry was transformed into a public phenomenon by the event that occurred on November 13, 1833. That particular night New England experienced the most remarkable meteoric shower that had ever been witnessed. Ten of thousands of falling stars were seen in New England and portions of Europe. It looked as though the whole sky was falling! New Englanders panicked and many thought the world was coming to an end. This spectacular event catapulted interest in Miller’s message to a much larger stage and Miller’s 17 years of study had prepared him to explain his understanding of the sixth seal to wondering people. When it became evident that Miller was unusually qualified and informed on prophetic matters, a group of 40 ministers (half of whom were Baptists) recognized Miller’s unique ministry in 1835 by granting him a license to speak in their affiliated churches. The falling of the stars overcame denominational barriers so that non-Baptists could hear what a self-taught Baptist preacher had to say.

 

Miller’s Logic

 

Because Miller believed that Daniel 8:14 pointed to the Second Coming in 1843, Miller naturally interpreted the falling of the stars to be a prophetic sign that Jesus would appear in about ten years. He had no doubt that the falling stars were a fulfillment of Revelation 6:13. Consider his logic:  The sixth seal defines a sequence of events that climax with the appearing of Jesus in the clouds of Heaven. These events include a great earthquake, the darkening of the sun, the falling of the stars and the appearing of Jesus – in this order. (Revelation 6:12-14) Appealing to recent history, Miller reminded his listeners of the Lisbon Portugal earthquake on November 1,1755 where 60,000 people perished. This, he claimed, fulfilled the great earthquake in Revelation 6:12. Some people remembered “the dark day” of May 19, 1780. By noon on that day, the sun became so dark in New England that a person could not see a white sheet of paper in front of his face. Later that day, the moon became the color of blood. The animals came in from the field around noon because the darkness was so great. (There is historical evidence that suggests the darkness was caused by a massive volcano eruption in Mexico.) Therefore, the great earthquake (1755), the dark day (1790), and the falling of the stars (1833) during the past 78 years proved to Miller that the sixth seal had been broken. According to Miller, the coming of Jesus had to be the next event because Revelation 6:14 (the next verse that follows the falling of the stars) describes the appearing of Jesus in the clouds of glory. When Miller demonstrated how the 2,300 evenings and mornings of Daniel 8:14 terminated in 1843, what could people say? Many sincere Protestants embraced Miller’s message. Several influential pastors joined Miller and a Millerite movement formed. As Miller’s teachings grew in popularity, mainstream Protestant churches circled the wagons by expelling people from their churches for “denying the faith once delivered to the saints.”

 

When the Spring of 1843 passed and Jesus did not appear, the Millerites poured over their calculations and found a simple mistake. They had overlooked one year between 457 B.C. and 1843. Because calendar years are not counted on a mathematical scale, the transition from B.C. to A.D. dating requires an extra year because there are no zero years. So, the 1843 date was corrected to 1844 and 1844 became the terminus of the 2,300 years of Daniel 8:14. The discovery renewed the hopes of the Millerites and more importantly, gave it one more year to spread the doctrine of the imminent Second Coming. However, the Spring and Fall of 1844 came and went without a Second Coming. Jesus did not appear and the Millerite movement imploded in bitter disappointment. The Millerite fiasco caused many Protestant churches particularly Baptists, to distain the study and meaning of prophecy.

 

 

No one knew it at the time, but the dazzling meteoric shower that night was predictable. Earth annually passes through a debris field in space created by the orbiting comet, Tempel-Tuttle around mid-November. As a result, we regularly see meteoric showers of “falling stars” appearing to come from the constellation of Leo about mid-November. Hence, these “falling stars” are called Leonids. We now know that earth passes through the densest part of the comet’s debris field every thirty-three years. Sometimes, the thirty-third year produces a spectacular display of shooting stars as it did in 1833. The debris field of Temple-Tuttle and the thirty-three year cycles of “shooting stars” were discovered thirty years later in 1863 by Yale College professor, Hubert Newton.

 

  

Fifth Essential Doctrine Rediscovered

 

After the Millerite movement collapsed, most of the Millerites renounced their faith or sheepishly returned to their churches. A few Millerites, however, did not give up. They returned to their Bibles to try to figure out what went wrong and soon discovered the problem. Miller interpreted the cleansing of the sanctuary in Daniel 8:14 to mean Earth would be purified of the wicked people at the Second Coming.  After carefully comparing the books of Hebrews, Leviticus and Daniel, they concluded that Miller’s view on the 2,300 years were correct, but the sanctuary to be cleansed was the true temple which was in Heaven.  (Leviticus 16; Hebrews 8 and 9) In other words, Jesus began cleansing Heaven’s temple in 1844.

 

From my point of view today, Miller’s ministry and disappointment served two purposes. First, Miller brought attention to Daniel 8:14 as no one else had. Second, the essential doctrine of God’s use of parallel temples was rediscovered as a result of Miller’s disappointment. The Holy Spirit accomplished as astounding success. After the Millerite implosion passed, there were people on Earth who understood that the judgment bar of Christ in Heaven’s temple had begun! Naturally mainstream Protestantism was rather pleased that the Millerite movement had disappeared, but out of the ashes of Miller’s disappointment, a new church group formed that would become known as the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This church group organized about twenty years after the disappointment (1863) – the same year Hubert Newton figured out the thirty-three year cycle of the shooting stars. 

 

The story of William Miller and the formation of the Seventh-day Adventist church are germane to the breaking of the third seal. The Holy Spirit raised a humble Baptist preacher to draw attention to the commencement of the judgment bar of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10; Daniel 8:14) just like He used a Catholic monk to draw attention to justification through faith. (Romans 1:17) As a denomination, Baptists rejected Miller’s prophetic views before his ministry imploded in 1844. Because traditional Baptists could not accept the doctrines of God’s use of parallel temples, God’s seventh day Sabbath, and soul sleep, the Holy Spirit raised a new church to proclaim these essential Bible truths.

 

The wonderful thing about religious liberty in the United States is that people are free to  study the Bible and believe whatever they wish to believe! This freedom enabled Miller to proclaim a truth whose time had come. Miller discovered the 2,300 days of Daniel 8:14 ended in the Spring of 1844 and from my studies affirm the validity of his claim. I am also convinced that the Holy Spirit raised the Seventh-day Adventist Church to compile Luther’s rediscovery of salvation through faith in Jesus, Congregationalist view on soul sleep, the Seventh Day Baptist view on the observance of God’s seventh day Sabbath, Miller’s views on the Second Coming, and the subsequent rediscovery of God’s use of parallel temples. Adventists merged these five doctrines into a harmonious system of understanding, but Seventh-day Adventists, like all churches, have not been willing to follow advancing light. This is a true paradox. Churches can form around a truth whose time has come, but they seem incapable of moving beyond that point when additional truth unfolds later. In this sense, Seventh-day Adventists have followed in the footsteps of Protestant churches that have not been able to move forward with advancing light. People will understand the darkness that currently holds Catholics and Protestants prisoner (their traditional prophetic views) when the next seal is broken!

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